Archbishop Nienstedt, Exonerated After Abuse Charges, Will Return to Work

Archbishop John Nienstedt will return to his post as head of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis after being exonerated of all charges in an abuse case.

The archbishop had called charges against him “absolutely and entirely false” but stepped aside temporarily in December 2013, pending officials’ investigation of charges that he had touched a young man’s buttocks during a group photo on May 5, 2009, following a Confirmation ceremony at the Cathedral of St. Paul.

According to a report in the Star-Tribune:

Assistant Ramsey County Attorney Richard Dusterhoft, the office’s criminal division director, said in a memo that the scenario described in the allegation “seems unlikely.” The allegation accused the archbishop of using a public moment after the confirmation to “sexually touch a random boy openly in front of another clergy member, a deacon, and numerous other confirmands while the confirmands’ family members were preparing to document the moment’’ with photos, Dusterhoft wrote.

“This case was reviewed by an assistant county attorney with many years of experience prosecuting child sex abuse cases,” Dusterhoft’s memo said. “It is that attorney’s experienced and considered opinion that based upon the evidence as presented by police this case could not be proven beyond a reasonable doubt and should not be charged.”

The charges of inappropriate touching had been brought to police on December 16, following several ongoing cases of alleged abuse by priests in the archdiocese and accusations of cover-up by archdiocesan officials.  A mother had told a priest about the alleged touching, and the priest had reported the conversation to the police and to the archdiocese.

Police interviewed the boy on December 18 and 19 regarding his claim that he had been touched by the archbishop.  The Star-Tribune reports:

He told police that Nienstedt had one hand on his crosier, a ceremonial staff, and another on the boy’s shoulder, then moved it down his back and buttocks.

“The male said he thought it was ‘creepy’ but did not feel violated,” the memo said. “The male said that he was concerned about the attention the incident was receiving and did not believe the incident was significant.”

A photo of the day shows a group of 13 people. Nienstedt is standing behind the boy, one step up, with his left hand on the crosier and his right hand on the boy’s left shoulder. Police interviewed everyone in the photo and no one reported touching someone as a joke, seeing touching between people or seeing anyone startled.

“The male did not describe any squeezing or rubbing associated with the touch,” Dusterhoft wrote. “Resting a hand on the buttocks, in the context of a group gathering to line up for photos, could be done in a thoughtless, unintentional or accidental manner, without the requisite sexual or aggressive intent required to be proven under the law.”

On December 19, 2013, I reported on the Kresta in the Afternoon Blog that Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, had spoken out in defense of the archbishop, calling the charges “scurrilous.”

The Catholic League had issued a statement, calling on those in attendance for that group photo to come forward with any evidence they had.

Earlier, in November 2013, I reported on unfair and sensationalized media coverage in another case, alleging a cover-up in the Twin Cities.  When the media reports resulted in widespread calls for the archbishop to resign, the police department took the unusual step of holding a press conference to clarify that Archbishop Nienstedt had not acted inappropriately and was not being charged with any crime in the case. 

It’s been alleged by some that Archbishop Nienstedt has been targeted by political opponents for his support of Church teachings regarding same-sex marriage and ordination of women.  In November 2013, I wrote:

“…the media (in Minneapolis-St. Paul and then, across the nation) posted incendiary articles accusing Archbishop Nienstedt of willfully failing to act to implement tough policies to protect the young, as mandated by the USCCB and local law enforcement.  Left-leaning activist groups which exist to lobby for tired positions in defense of same-sex marriage and women priests used this opportunity to seek the resignation of their faithful, conservative archbishop.”  

On Tuesday, March 11, police once again cleared the archbishop of any wrongdoing.  The office began reviewing reports and evidence provided by police in late December and on Tuesday announced that the investigation didn’t support the filing of criminal charges.

Even SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, called the most recent allegation against Archbishop Nienstedt “pretty implausible.”  In a March 11 statement on the group’s website, SNAP’s Frank Meuers said the group is “grateful that police apparently did investigate this thoroughly.”

So it’s over, at least for now.

Welcome back, Archbishop Nienstedt.

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  • Beverly Stevens

    SHARING on Regina Magazine

  • rodlarocque1931

    The fact that a Catholic mother would make an issue out of a possible pat on the butt shows how this witch hunt against clergy is getting ridiculous.
    In any other context it would have been brushed off or not even noticed, but because a priest is nearby everyone is hyper suspicious — it just goes to show you the total disconnect between the faithful and clergy, that the faithful are suspicious of their own clergy —
    Where did this break in trust stem from? From the lack of clergy teaching their faithful the value of chastity and purity… so now the faithful can’t even imagine that celibacy is possible and lead to a fullfilling happy life…. instead even the lay faithful think that it is unrealistic, hypocritical, dangerous and leads to perversion.
    The media of course is helping to strengthen this prejudice against celibacy and sexual purity.
    The Church needs to return to tradition and start by teaching the faithful the basics of the faith and of morals.
    50 years of ignoring these teachings is coming back to smack us in the butt!

  • oregon nurse

    I feel badly that the Archbishop became a victim to a false accusation. But, if all is true as presented, maybe there is a good side to this as well. It demonstrated how easily innocent actions can be blown out of proportion and an inadvertent touch can become ‘abuse’. It shows the propensity of some people (the teen and his mother) to jump to false conclusions or perhaps even intentionally lie for ulterior motives. It showed the willingness of a priest and the archdiocese to take action on the report even when the bishop was the ‘offender’. It showed a willingness of the police to fully investigate and of the bishop to cooperate. And it showed the bishop can get fair treatment and have his name cleared when wrongly accused.

    All in all I think it demonstrated the call to protect process is working well in that archdiocese.

  • I_M_Forman

    Very pleased to see this story.

  • Fantastic, and only proves there are people out there trying to slander our priests.

  • Christy

    I think the Catholic church gets more scrutiny about its history of pedophilia because it is a singular entity but it’s equally prevalent in the general population. Also, pedophilia isn’t caused by celibacy, and celibacy doesn’t lead to perversion. Pedophiles are predominantly male and can be married, single–all walks of life. If you read about pedophiles, although abuse thrives in secrecy, they gain the trust of the parent, the community, and are socially savvy enough to create doubt once an allegation has been made. They also enjoy pushing boundaries. Some of them get a thrill out of doing this right in front of the parent, and it makes them feel “untouchable”, pun intended. I think it’s plausible that no one saw anything, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen, and it doesn’t mean it was an accident or innocent. Some pedophiles do this to children in order for the child to realize the abuser was able to get away with inappropriate touching in a public place, and it’s also a maneuver to groom a potential victim. I would much rather the child speak up immediately and to be vigilant, than to brush it off as a misunderstanding or something blown out of proportion. That is EXACTLY how abuse continues–the pedophile manipulates the situation to his benefit and then feels invincible because no one will believe the child. Educate yourselves about how pedophiles operate in our society and realize that it is possible. I would much rather incidents like these be investigated thoroughly and the child believed, than to shrug it off. Maybe the fact that he spoke up saved him from being targeted. Children should be taught to trust their instincts!!! Read the book, “The Socially Skilled Child Molester,” by Carla van Dam. It is a great resource in understanding the scope of this problem.

    • kathyschiffer

      “I think it’s plausible that no one saw anything, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen, and it doesn’t mean it was an accident or innocent.”

      Christy, there is much truth in what you write; but I sincerely hope you are not suggesting that the good and holy Archbishop is guilty until proven innocent.

      • Christy

        No, I’m not. I didn’t mean to suggest that. I’m an advocate for children’s voices being heard. I’m glad they took the matter seriously and investigated thoroughly. The VIRTUS program encourages people to step forward and I’m glad people feel comfortable doing so. I object to the vilification of the mother by one of your other commenters. I think that Catholic priests get an unfair share of scrutiny because of past scandals. If people associate priests being celibate leading to perversion, that’s ignorance. Really, I think all adults who interact with children, regardless of religion or situation should be scrutinized for their behavior around them. Something as simple as an alleged pat on the rear-end, might be easily ignored, but in the case of a pedophile, it’s a serious attempt to groom a victim, and test boundaries. I wanted to raise the issue, since none of us know what really happened.